Tag Archives: Lindsay

Me, Myself, and I: DIY

I’m getting ready to embark on a HUGE project. As I mentioned in a recent post about my distracted mindset, my hubby and I bought a house in October. She’s a beaut and I adore her in every way, but let me be quite clear that she’s a work in progress. Since we moved in over my school’s Thanksgiving Break with Winter Break quickly to follow, there was a lot of time at the onset for our amateur renovations. We managed to sand, paint, screw, and redecorate our way through renovations of the kitchen and hallway bathroom. We LOVE these renovations and, while our style choices may not appeal to everyone, we can’t be bothered to care, because they appeal greatly to us!

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Wood on wood on wood.

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Can you tell that gray + white is our jam?

Anyway, like I said, all our improvements happened right after move in and for the last few months, we’ve made additional plans for other aspirations. The one we’ve decided to try to tackle over Spring Break is updating the exterior of our home. Red Brick is the style for most people on our street, but I cannot claim to like red brick. I know the value of it and I appreciate the low-maintenance upkeep and durability, but I just don’t like red. I reached out to my aunt for help with the landscaping plans, so before I pay trillions and break my back planting beautiful, green things, we’re giving the red brick a makeover via German Smear.

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Now, first things first, I know this has nothing to do with books. So what? My blog.

I looked up a lot of websites about the process and most of them seemed helpful but I’m worried my experience will reveal some hidden truths. So, in the interest of authenticity, I decided that I will relate my thoughts on this endeavor by doing multiple installments of my thoughts and experiences: pre-, mid-, and post-project.

PRE-EFFORT AMBITIONS:

The original plan was to Limewash, not German Smear. However, despite how many true crime podcasts I listen to, I didn’t know that the purchase of lime is strictly monitored due to its common use in quick decomposition, so it turns out that lime is relatively inaccessible and expensive (compared to the $30 cost we expected based on the LIES Pinterest tells me). So, the plan has changed to German Smear, largely supported by some promising how-to blogs and the all-knowing Bob Vila.

I have no delusions about what a large endeavor this will be for the hubby and me to do ourselves. However, we are die-hard DIY-ers and we’re painfully cheap, so we’ve committed our last 3 days of Spring Break to completing this project. Let the fun begin!


MID-PROCESS LESSONS/IMPRESSIONS:

Future Lindsay, here. I’ve now spent several hours over the last few days working on our Smearing. My back is killing me and my right arm is full-on throbbing. Oh well.

Because I didn’t want to dive in and do my “learning” on the house exterior itself, I started in our sunken sun-room. This room was added onto the house and is home to a brick-encased gas fireplace. I used this as my trial space, as well as the brick wall that used to be the exterior wall but now is the adjoining wall. Since this was my first attempt at it, it was slow-going. I was hopeful that the process would quicken once I got outside and was able to be less cautious about floors/trims.

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Formerly black brick now white

Upon finishing the fireplace and interior wall on Friday, I spent Saturday starting on the exterior of our home. We’re starting in the back so that we can work as slowly as our schedules allow without having a partially complete look visible to the road.

We have the most delightful covered porch, which was where I started. Once I was past that porch, I needed help from the brave, ladder-ready, high-reaching hubby. I left that last corner to him. This seemingly small section of brick took 3 hours of solo effort (while listening to back-to-back episodes of “My Favorite Murder,” so it was a pleasure). Sunday was spent similarly, working on the other side of the sun-room. Again, hours of work spent on precious little space.

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All of the brick on the back of the house is done!

Lessons Learned and Henceforth Shared:

  1. There’s no way in the fiery depths of Hell we’ll be done this weekend. Or next. Maybe even the next. The hubs has been navigating his own stuff lately, what with his own school and a night job, so I did all the work this weekend by myself. I spent several hours each day and feel like I made NO PROGRESS, but that’s just because I’m dramatic. I made plenty of progress and will make more when one becomes two.
  2. Go into it knowing what look you want. I know most people associate German Smear with that one episode of “Fixer Upper,” but that is NOT the look we want. We want almost full coverage with lots of texture; we’re lucky we have a variety of brick colors already, since we LOVE GRAY and the gray bricks add variety. We have no plans to scrub off or expose any of the brick after smearing.
  3. Only make as much mortar wash as you can use in one “session.” Nobody on any of the how-to sites mentioned that this stuff is technically cement. I should have put this together, no doubt, but I did not. I almost lost my bucket and stirrer thing to hardened smear I hoped to be able to use the next day. Alas, it was wasted. Now we make less at a time or just work until we finish the bucket.
  4. Add the mortar to the water. I tried it the other way around and it was just like clumpy cake mix that never fully integrates.
  5. A natural bristle broom head is my weapon of choice. Others use a mortar brush or a mortar sponge, or even just their gloved hands. We have brick that is more porous and textured than usual, so I’ve found that my hands are taking quite the beating; I reserve my gloved hands for small spaces, edges, and corners. Otherwise, I use the broom head. Works like a charm. Also durable elbow-length gloves are my VIP. Honorable Mention goes out to the mixer/stirrer attachment for my drill. Without you, I’d be lost.
  6. A “honey” texture is too high maintenance. That’s what I used on the fireplace in the above pictures, and you can see how thick the coverage is. As I’m working, I’ve decided that “batter” is better. This all depends on the finish you want, of course, but the thicker the mixture, the less it spreads, so not only does it take twice as long to apply, but it also uses twice as much smear and is twice as thick in terms of coverage. We want light coverage, meaning we can still see the variance in brick colors but without any shades of red, so “batter” is better for us.
  7. It may be too early to say, but pressure-washing and wetting the brick before smearing isn’t, like, THE most important thing. The hubs pressure-washed the back wall and it hasn’t really done much to help. Similarly, I saw a lot of people say you *MUST* wet the brick before applying the mortar wash. I’ve forgotten over big swaths of wall and see literally no difference, as of yet.

So, I’m going to get back to work and Future Lindsay will update you soon with the end results!


POST-LABOR REFLECTIONS:

Way Future Lindsay, here and HOLY. GUAC. AMOLE.

That took forever, y’all. This is not hyperbole, but I literally spent HOURS on this *ish* and I’m so over it! In fact, there is still one small, unfinished side of the house that isn’t visible to anyone other than one neighbor and I’m in no rush to finish it because it looks finished from where I’m standing, ifyaknowwhatImean?!?!?

In all honesty, I’ve spent over 22 collective hours (plus 3 to 5 expected on that DARNED unfinished portion) German Smearing my home and don’t forget to add more hours for painting trim, shutters, doors, et al. I mentioned earlier that I started over Spring Break, which was in early March, and it is now the end of May, so take that as you will. All of the lessons I mentioned above are important, no doubt, but I think the most important lesson is LOOK AT YOUR BRICK! NOT ALL BRICK IS CREATED EQUALLY! Okay, I knew the brick on my home was fugly, but its true uniqueness didn’t really hit home until it was way too late to turn back. Our brick is not only ugly because of the wild variations in color, but also because of the wild texture. This is not smooth brick; this brick has many a nook and cranny, which made each smear a genuine arm workout.

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My bis and tris are truly gettin’ at it these days. I also got a friction blister on the tip of my thumb and let this be a PSA that you need to appreciate the tip of your thumb before you lose it, okay?!

We wore down (to little stumps) three natural-bristle brushes (again, the texture of our brick is unparalleled) and went through at least 4 or 5 bags of mortar. This means that everything Pinterest says is a lie and you can’t trust anyone, including me! What do I know?!? Anyway, our property and belongings are spattered with drops of cement, meaning that our stepladder has barnacle-like permanent accumulations on the steps and handle and we’re thankful that we’re re-doing our landscaping because our shrubs are lazy with cement droplets.

Now, what we’ve all been waiting for, AFTER PICTURES!!

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None of the pictures I take give enough credit to how bright the front door is. Our visitors have commented on the awesome door color, and I have to give that credit to Brice.

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The shutters and trim are a nice Olive Green and all rust-colored trim is now dark gray. Thus, unintentionally, the gray/white obsession evident in our kitchen and bathroom continues! A few neighbors have stopped by while we’re outside working to tell us how good it looks and I must say that I agree. We still need to paint the rust-colored addition and porch in the back, but the front looks done enough for me to be happy and proud of us!

 

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Review: Cantero’s “Meddling Kids”

First things first, I recently posted about my love for tea and as much as I hate that the internet monitors my searches, it sure does benefit me from time to time. Pinterest recommended a monthly tea subscription service and I got my first delivery a few weeks ago. I was able to tell them about my aversion to cloves and got a very kind “Welcome!” email from the CEO and the Facebook group community. My first style was an Orange Blossom Black Tea and it is so fragrant and delish! They also have a shop with lots of other varieties (all hand blended without any unwanted, mass market additions) and tons of covet-worthy accessories. I’m in love and already spreading the recommendation far and wide, hither and yon. Very much looking forward to my next delivery in a week or so. I was going to put this at the end, but it’s important to talk about what you love.

 


I recently finished Edgar Cantero’s novel Meddling Kids and, overall, I very much enjoyed it. But it made me think: why must there always be a love interest? Why?!?

From the moment I found out that this novel existed, I was excited to read it. It ticked several of my boxes, being inspired by my childhood obsession (Scooby-Doo and the Gang) and containing elements of the supernatural and true crime. I want to say I first hear about it on a list of books that “will legit scare you;” it did not scare me even remotely, but it was a good mystery/thriller, nonetheless.

1990. The teen detectives once known as the Blyton Summer Detective Club (of Blyton Hills, a small mining town in the Zoinx River Valley in Oregon) are all grown up and haven’t seen each other since their fateful, final case in 1977. Andy, the tomboy, is twenty-five and on the run, wanted in at least two states. Kerri, one-time kid genius and budding biologist, is bartending in New York, working on a serious drinking problem. At least she’s got Tim, an excitable Weimaraner descended from the original canine member of the team. Nate, the horror nerd, has spent the last thirteen years in and out of mental health institutions, and currently resides in an asylum in Arhkam, Massachusetts. The only friend he still sees is Peter, the handsome jock turned movie star. The problem is, Peter’s been dead for years.

The time has come to uncover the source of their nightmares and return to where it all began in 1977. This time, it better not be a man in a mask. The real monsters are waiting.
 

For a while, I was worried that it might risk irritating me, since I was far from casual about my love for Scooby-Doo. Call it what it is: obsession. Sometimes, if things based on beloved originals take too many liberties, it risks offending the sensitive feelings of the fans, especially if formerly innocent teen characters are portrayed as drug-addicted, alcoholic, suicidal, mentally unstable twenty-somethings. However, I went into it knowing it was one person’s interpretation, so if it didn’t parallel my interpretation, or at least entertain me, I could always opt-out.

At times, the supernatural elements got a little eye-roll-inducing. However, it was at least consistent. It didn’t pepper it in there for occasional flavor; it established a supernatural element pretty early and maintained the “wtf is happening”-ness, but it at least had the decency to have the characters acknowledge the oddness of it all. Cantero meshed some characters, so that both of the girls had Daphne elements and both had Velma elements. Fred’s character (they have different names) was dead but still an active participant (hello, supernatural), and Shaggy’s was decidedly un-Shaggy-like throughout. He made the characters his own while still leaving “Easter eggs” of relevance for the die-hard Scooby fans. I’m also a big fan of a mystery that surprises me; I get a little bummed when I figure out the big reveal before-hand. I didn’t see this one coming and it was a nice surprise.

So that just leaves the ill-fitting love story. Why did that have to exist? In no way is it a spoiler for me to reveal that there was something of a lesbian interest constantly bubbling on a back-burner. That was made evident within the first few pages. However, this was one of those rare, end-of-the-world scenarios that was somehow overshadowed by inconsequential arguments and confusing emotions. These “kids” would find out that supernatural beings exist, and they’d put a pin in that in order to get to the more pressing matter of someone unexpectedly saying the l-word. And what’s with the unrealistic depiction of a girl who is loved by and lusted for by every single other character?!? Please. Enough.

I have little patience for jamming a puzzle piece where it doesn’t fit in order to appeal to more readers, and this just felt like pandering. It’s as though Cantero wrote a perfectly love-free novel and his publishers went back and said, “okay, but this won’t appeal to people who like love stories, so we need to force that in somehow.” No, you don’t. Some books appeal to some people but very few (a.k.a. none) appeal to all, so why taint those that truly appeal to one audience by diluting them with essence-of-other-people’s-interests? The love story was uncomfortable and inorganic, and after suffering through it for 300 pages, it wasn’t even resolved in a way that offered a satisfying ending. They have a VERY rocky road ahead of them.

I won’t even go into my thoughts on a thirty-something male writing the perspective of a teen lesbian. I’m going to let that sleeping dog lie.

Anyway, I gave it four stars, since the overall experience was a pleasant one. Worse comes to worst, I can always skim sections that are dripping with unnecessary sappiness. Am I alone in this?

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Why So Sour?

I recently read a book and hated it. I’ve been sour ever since. For weeks now, I’ve been miffed, not only because I didn’t like it, but more so because I expected not only to like it, but to LOVE it (based on my obsession with the other books in the series). Of course, as is my nature, I’m mad at the author, as though he let me down by writing the book against my wishes. That’s absurd, since I’m sure we can all agree that it’s 100% MY FAULT that I went into reading it with certain expectations.

Oh, did I mention that the book is Pierce Brown’s fourth installment in the Red Rising Saga, Iron Gold? Truth be told, I’m still not ready to do a review, mostly because I still don’t know how I feel about it. A play-by-play of my feelings are as follows:

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While reading: “Oh my gosh, this is so depressing. Maybe it will get better.” 

Still reading: “Please just let this be over. Must suffer through.”

Upon finishing: “(*throws book across the room*) FINALLY! Get outta muh life!!”

Following day: (*texts disappointments to a fellow-sufferer*)

Days later: (*still thinking about that darned book*)

Still days later: (*typing this*)


 

Usually, when I really hate a book, I put it down and walk away, never wasting another minute’s time thinking about it. However, I clearly can’t shake Iron Gold. I feel like I need to know why I didn’t like it. I can’t even pinpoint whether I owe it to myself, Pierce Brown, or the series as a whole to figure out exactly why I disliked this book.

Even now, I hesitate to say that I “hated” it. The feelings while reading were undoubtedly hatred, though. I genuinely didn’t enjoy a single page, but to say that I hated it feels too strong, too personal, especially considering my utter adoration of Brown’s three other novels. So here I sit, racking my brain in the sake of fairness, trying to isolate the reason why this novel missed the mark, so to speak.

What makes a person hate a book?

  1. Simple Preferences: This can encompass things like genre, POV, format, etc. This is the most frequent reason for me to abandon a text due to dislike. Although I do my best to try various genres (especially ones that might help me recommend books for students with varying interests and preferences), I have very clear preferences of my own. I tend to lean towards Mystery/Horror, Historical Fiction, True Crime, and Sci-Fi, especially “Space Operas.” I do not like romance and I often find realistic fiction and non-fiction to be boring, too much like real life and too little of an escape. If a book falls outside of my standard genre, it is that much more likely to be abandoned due to dislike. Similarly, a lot of people are turned off by a format other than prose. Remember how many people freaked the eff out about Cursed Child being in a screenplay format? If readers get too stuck in our ways, we can easily find anything “abnormal” to be unlikable.
  2. Writing Style: Somewhat less common of a cause for abandonment is a dislike for the author’s “voice,” or writing style. As with the others, this is entirely subjective. I recently read a memoir and simply hated the author’s voice, feeling that the whole memoir was a humble brag. While I found it off-putting, my students related to it and thought it was honest and exciting. Similarly, while students are often overwhelmed by Shakespearean language, I find it to be refreshing, challenging, and illuminating. What causes some great pleasure causes others to run and hide.
  3. Life: Now that I’ve had some time to think back and really force myself to separate my feelings from what I had expected from this novel, I’m realizing that I just was not in the right frame of mind for this novel. As I recently explained in a recent post, I’m navigating some new and uncomfortable life circumstances right now, and my quick solution is to avoid anything that increases my stress. Undoubtedly, this novel added to my stress. I’m far too invested in these characters and this series to not take these changes personally. It’s entirely possible that this novel would be more welcome during a less stressful time in my life. Therefore, I plan to re-read Iron Gold this summer, when I’ll be more removed from the everyday stress of teaching and I can afford to take on the struggles of fictional characters.

In addition to re-reading this summer, I also hope to meet up with my like-minded pal Bekah and record another 5-star episode of SPACE BOOKS! There will be plenty of time to mull over my feelings from this first reading (don’t worry, I’ve recorded them so I don’t forget my initial reactions) and potentially adjust them based on research, discussions, and re-reading.

What I can say, though, is that I also finished reading the Sons of Ares comics. I highly enjoyed them, although I must say that I hate being done with the experience in 5 minutes flat and feeling like the comics left me with more questions than answers. All the same, I’d highly recommend them.

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Emotional Expatriate – Tea

Let’s don’t get political. I know, I used the term “expatriate” in my title and, believe me, it’s sounding pretty good right now, but the fact that America is a mess right now is all too known to we, the people. So, instead, let’s talk about how obsessed Americans are with coffee and how I ally myself with the tea-minded masses.

Anyone who is not from the U.S. may find it hard to believe that very few Americans drink tea. I mean, I’m sure there are plenty of tea-drinkers somewhere out there, but as with the metric system, America wanted to do its own thing and set out to be purposefully difficult… I mean different.

I, personally, don’t remember the last time I had coffee. I always found the smell to be utterly enticing, but the flavor has never appealed to me. So, when I was introduced to black tea some years ago, it was an epiphany that shifted into a complete lifestyle change.

I will go ahead and tell you that it is not easy to be a tea-drinker in the U.S., or at least in the South. As mentioned earlier and according to some very brief and only mildly emotionally invested research that I just did, over $40 billion is spent on coffee annually in the U.S. Americans lurv that java juice. I’m reminded of that scene in the world’s best movie, “You’ve Got Mail,” when Tom Hanks’ character is musing about how the act of ordering coffee makes people feel like they’re in charge of something. “Tall. Decaf. Capp-u-cci-no.” As Joe Fox so wisely stated, people like to take charge by making all the tiny decisions that lead to their perfect concoction. The same can be said about tea, though, so I apologize for the digression.

Anyway, the U.S. has almost collectively decided that we will drink coffee, so those of us who drink tea are metaphorically left out in the rain on many occasions. For instance, when I went to Ohio for Christmas this year, we went to IHOP (I know, I know) and, since this isn’t my first rodeo, I brought tea bags from home and had a few stuffed in my purse in case they didn’t have my preferred type. Well, when I asked if they had hot tea, she said, “yes I can bring you some Lipton” and I just asked her to bring me hot water. Of course, the water wasn’t the proper temp, but I just chose to pick my battles. Such is the eternal plight of the tea-drinking American who travels within the continental U.S. I recently lead a field trip to South Carolina and, again, sacrificed needed suitcase space so I wouldn’t find myself tea-less all weekend. I must give a shout out, though, to Marriott Hotels for including English Breakfast bags with the coffee pods in each room. I was so pleased to be proven wrong.

I’m lucky that I live in a hipster-ish town; it’s my experience that hipsters encourage any high-maintenance eating/drinking habits, so I can count on access to English Breakfast tea bags pretty much anywhere I go in town, except the lame chain restaurants, which we don’t patronize anyway. Remember eons ago when I wrote about being happy in my “vanilla-ness”? Well, I still “yam what I yam,” so it is to be expected that my bachelorette party was a tea party. We all felt classy af. That tea parlor has recently quit doing afternoon tea and only caters to groups over 20 (good luck with that), so I’m glad we had our party before they became “too good for us.”

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I’m almost certainly over-extending my right to assume things, but I’m going to take the liberty of assuming that most, if not all, tea-drinking nations treat afternoon tea like a regular, everyday occasion that isn’t ridiculous even in the slightest. I feel like it reveals something about how American society perceives “tea parties” that part of the experience is that all members roam the establishment in order to find absurd accessories with which they adorn themselves while they sip tea with their pinkies as “out” as is physically possible. In fact, in the above pic, the owner came to take a picture of our table and insisted that we all “pinky out.” Check dem pinks for proof.

 

 

I’m not complaining since, as you can see, I’ve been tearing up the tea party game since birth. In the days of yore, though, we’d put on our Sunday best and survey a multitude of bougie accessory options, like faux furs, parasols, lace gloves, obscene costume jewelry, and all the many many hats. This is how Americans think foreigners live daily life. The local shop closed within the past few years; it’s, honest to god, a miracle that it even existed so close to our little Podunk town. When it closed, I remember being so regretful that I didn’t know sooner so I could try to buy out all the absurd accessories. Maybe I should task my mother with finding the owner, still. As far as tea goes, I’m in it to win it for life, so my nephew and my future child will have to suffer through some tea parties, whether they like it or not. Shout out to Hannah and my sister for being my forever tea companions.

Today, I continue the obsession with less accessorizing. I have loose leaf tea at work every day and I remain surprised every time a kid is unaware that tea is a thing. On weekends, I make a whole pot and sit it on my candle warmer so I can slowly sip it and enjoy a calm, casual morning. It has even permeated my birthdays and Christmases, since I get nice teas and useful tools regularly. Hannah gets me a box of Harrods English Breakfast every time she goes international, for which I am eternally and energetically thankful. Additionally, my mother recently organized all our family sets of china and brought me a cup and saucer from each of our sets. I also got some glass hobnail sets  from my family museum, so I’m accumulating quite the collection of assorted sets.

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I know this is a book blog, so here is how I validate ranting about tea: IT’S MY BLOG! If you are upset, go do literally any other thing besides judge MY blog. Also, tea and books are like pb&j, so there.

Come have tea with me!!

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Ready As I’ll Ever Be: Classroom

A while back, I posted about my budding classroom and the many tools I would need in order to prepare for the beginning of school. Well, that beginning is less than a week away now, so I’ve been slowly but surely “setting up” my classroom so that my focus won’t be compromised during pre-planning, which started this week. Thanks to the kind responses both on here and on my social media pages, I got a ton of great suggestions on ways to streamline the processes in my classroom in order to make my life easier and my students’ educations more effective.

I’m also lucky to have a number of family members and friends who want to contribute to my classroom and, accordingly, to my peace of mind. A big fat THANK YOU goes out to my siblings and their spouses, my in-laws, my parents, and my friends, Savannah and Hannah. Due to their kind contributions, I’m way more prepared and not bankrupt!

 

In addition to my luck at having the most thoughtful and generous friends and family members in the world, I’m also really lucky in that I somehow was given the biggest room on the hall! I have 5 double windows facing east-ish, so I get immense amounts of sunlight and it looks like I won’t have to worry about the overhead fluorescent lights being an issue, since I won’t ever need to use them. Another interesting detail is that the room is a rectangular shape with the majority of the room to the right when you walk in the door; to the left of the door, however, is about 6 or 8 feet of space that isn’t exactly functional in terms of student desk space. I’ll use it for my storage closet and student station, but otherwise, I’m able to spread out! I brought in my bookcase and positioned it next to my desk, which gives me a nice private space that will be all my own.

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Special shout out to the hubs for modeling my desk

Don’t worry, I’m under no delusion that I’ll ever have much time to sit down at my desk, but I’m just a big fan of privacy and personal space. In conjunction with that, the desk provided by the school has a gap at the bottom which would show my ankles (again, just give me some privacy, please) and more importantly, let out valuable heat from my space heater for my little footies. In an effort to come up with a creative solution, I decided to make “book spines” that could serve double-duty while also looking fly and relevant.

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I know what you’re thinking; yes, they’re awesome and yes, that’s a HP pencil holder on my desk. It’s amazing what you can find on Etsy and, as a fellow person-who-tries-to-be-creative-sometimes, I want to support people in their creative endeavors as often as possible. And you should, too. Here is the link for the pencil holder and here is the link for these AMAZING author posters, with which I am certifiably obsessed.

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Tangential to my aforementioned attempts to be creative, here are some pics of the DIYs featured in my classroom!

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These obscenities are the original versions of my lamps. I don’t have a lovely “after” pic, so just scroll back up to the pic of my desk and you’ll see them. I replaced the shades with cute beige/brown specked ones and spray painted the bases with textured gold outdoor spray paint. They remain as “thic” as ever, but now they’re also fierce!

You may have noticed my golden snitch string lights on my bookcase. These took one slow afternoon plus some yellow paint and white construction paper I already had. A.k.a. free.

In summation, I love my family and friends and I’m extremely lucky and totally optimistic. Again, let me know what I’m missing and wish me luck!!

 

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Love This? Try This! – “Romeo and Juliet” Graphic Novel

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It’s been a hot minute since I did one of these! But then again, it’s also been a while since I read something that so strongly reflected its predecessors or inspirations. I mentioned in a previous post that I’ve read another graphic novel by Gareth Hinds while teaching Homer’s The Odyssey; similarly, I know I have to teach Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet this year (*eye roll*), so I got Hinds’ graphic novel version to see if I can find a way to incorporate it.

Gareth Hinds’s stylish graphic adaptation of the Bard’s romantic tragedy offers modern touches — including a diverse cast that underscores the story’s universality.

She’s a Capulet. He’s a Montague. But when Romeo and Juliet first meet, they don’t know they’re from rival families — and when they find out, they don’t care. Their love is honest and raw and all-consuming. But it’s also dangerous. How much will they have to sacrifice before they can be together? In a masterful adaptation faithful to Shakespeare’s original text, Gareth Hinds transports readers to the sun-washed streets and market squares of Shakespeare’s Verona, vividly bringing the classic play to life on the printed page.

First things first, if you love the classic tale of literature’s most famous star-crossed lovers, this adaptation does the original story justice. The language remains the same, so you’re not getting a “cheat sheet,” per se; however, in this format, you have the visual advantage of being able to see the characters and conversations, see who is speaking and to whom they are speaking. I really can’t say enough about having visuals, especially for stories that have elevated language that might confuse current-day readers. Having that visual assistance can only aid in understanding the plot.

Another advantage (in my opinion) of this format is that the content must be condensed so, thankfully, many of the pointless, rambling monologues are cut out entirely or reduced to only the parts that drive the story. To me, those moments where the Nurse would go off on a tangent never added to the story and instead only added to the level of student confusion. I’m thrilled that those are omitted and, honestly, wish I could teach with this graphic novel as the primary text. This adaptation includes everything that is pivotal to understanding the plot and social references. For those who are only reading this out of obligation and not by choice, this version would serve just as well as the original.

The most obvious difference between this graphic novel and the classic play is that the character families are portrayed as minority groups; the Capulets are Indian and the Montagues are Black. Hinds makes it clear that the choice to portray them as such is not pointed in regards to either culture and simply exists in order to show that the story is “universal” in its popularity and influence. Whether it was the goal or not, portraying the families in this way also makes it easier to determine which characters are Capulets vs. Montagues. Instead of just having a bunch of white people fighting and not knowing whose side each is on, for better or for worse, the difference in ethnicity helps readers understand sides. However, potentially also unknowingly, this gives the impression that the family feuds could relate to cultural differences, when such is not likely to be true in the original play.

My mission is to find a way to incorporate this graphic novel into our reading of the classic play as much as possible. If you remember my efforts with The Odyssey and Nimona, I have faced trouble with giving students access to the text. However, those attempts were at a school that did not have one-to-one capabilities, which I will have this year, so it is possible to give students access to an electronic copy. I’m going to go with that and see where it takes me.

In addition to the graphic novel, there are numerous film adaptations of the play. I was kindly gifted a copy of Luhrmann’s “Romeo + Juliet,” featuring my boyfriend Leo. There are also other versions, like “Romeo Must Die,” “Gnomeo and Juliet,” and “West Side Story.” I also have several songs that would be great for lyric analysis in regards to this play. I’m excited to teach it, in spite of the fact that Juliet and Romeo are as irritating as the day is long.

 

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Reviews Aplenty: “Dark Matter,” “Y: The Last Man,” and “The Winter of Our Discontent”

Remember my summer reading plans? Remember how those plans were derailed? Well, they weren’t thrown off entirely, since I was able to squeeze in several texts of my own choosing, one of which was even on my original summer reading list!

“Are you happy with your life?”

Those are the last words Jason Dessen hears before the masked abductor knocks him unconscious.

Before he awakens to find himself strapped to a gurney, surrounded by strangers in hazmat suits.

Before a man Jason’s never met smiles down at him and says, “Welcome back, my friend.”

In this world he’s woken up to, Jason’s life is not the one he knows. His wife is not his wife. His son was never born. And Jason is not an ordinary college physics professor, but a celebrated genius who has achieved something remarkable. Something impossible.

Is it this world or the other that’s the dream? And even if the home he remembers is real, how can Jason possibly make it back to the family he loves? The answers lie in a journey more wondrous and horrifying than anything he could’ve imagined—one that will force him to confront the darkest parts of himself even as he battles a terrifying, seemingly unbeatable foe.

I finished this one a while ago and didn’t feel inclined to blog about it because I really had very little to say. This was partly because I felt a bit confused at times and that often overshadowed the excitement. It should come as no surprise that particle physics isn’t within my comfort zone; Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Astrophysics for People in a Hurry has been on my nightstand for at least a month, since I read the first 5 pages and got a headache. I’m not ashamed to admit that thinking of that level is far over my head. However, although Crouch’s narrator, Jason, is clearly a genius, he has conversations with people who are not, giving the reader the opportunity to catch up on the situation. Anyone who has read The Martian and felt sorely inadequate at maths will sympathize and, sadly, I don’t think Crouch’s attempts to make the subject matter relatable and simplified is as effortless as Weir’s.

However, I thought the idea was quite original and I wasn’t so lost that I was unable to enjoy the story. I know people who were unresolved with the ending and, I must admit that I was slightly peeved, since it was left so open-ended that it felt a bit like a cop-out. But alas, by now, it comes as more of a surprise when an author does give a satisfying ending than when s/he puts all the effort into the rising action, conflicts, and climax. I’m not pleased, but I’m not surprised, either.

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“Y” is none other than unemployed escape artist Yorick Brown (his father was a Shakespeare buff), and he’s seemingly the only male human left alive after a mysterious plague kills all Y-chromosome carriers on earth. But why are he and his faithful companion, the often testy male monkey Ampersand, still alive? He sets out to find the answer (and his girlfriend), while running from angry female Republicans (now running the government), Amazon wannabes that include his own sister (seemingly brainwashed), and other threats.

Not really sure what to say about this one. It managed to be feminist and anti-feminist at the same time; it was empowering, at times, and extremely discouraging at others. It was fun to read for a teacher of English, since the main character has an English degree and the story contains tons of references that might only be relevant or funny to those with similar interests. The illustrations are amazing and detailed, so this graphic novel would be a huge success even if only based on the images. The story itself is unique and intriguing, so I enjoyed reading it, but this is volume 1 of 10; I’m not that invested. I will not pursue the series further, but that is mostly because 10 volumes is just too much of a commitment for this lazy person. I also won’t keep it in my classroom, as long as I’m teaching 9th grade, at least. There is a great deal of mature language and the subject matter itself could be too much for some audiences. It’s too risky to keep it within reach of all, but some mature students could really enjoy it.

Ethan Allen Hawley, the protagonist of the novel, works as a clerk in a grocery store that his family once owned. With the decline in their status, his wife is restless & his teenage children are hungry for the tantalizing material comforts he cannot provide. Then one day, in a moment of moral crisis, Ethan decides to take a holiday from his own scrupulous standards.

My grandmother gave me her copy of this text and I haven’t read enough Steinbeck, so I decided to tackle this one this summer. I had forgotten how long-winded the classics can be. There were entire pages describing the street upon which the main character lived. I could’ve done with a bit more conciseness and a lot more action, but I can’t say that I disliked it. It was slow and a lot of things that seemed like pointless conversations or comments ended up proving meaningful in the end. However, I hate to have to get to the end of a book before I realize that what I read was purposeful instead of ramblings. I may have been steeped in YA for too long, since I used to be all classics all the time, but this one just seemed dull and pointless until the very end. Ain’t nobody got time for that. I do, however, feel as though it is a good representation of small town life, especially in the 1960s. Life in a small town isn’t always (or even often) exciting, as I know all too well, so it is highly likely that the lack of plot twists is meant to reflect a mundane life. I had no trouble seeing why Steinbeck is considered a great author of the American experience, but kids just won’t buy into this. No intentions to teach this.

I’m currently reading Waking Gods, which is the second book in the Themis Files series. My review of the first book is here and I hope to finish the second one soon. I need something awesome!

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Poll: Classroom Must-Haves

This week I went to sign my contract for my new job and fulfill some county training. While I did totally pay attention and no one can claim otherwise, I will admit that my brain was constantly thinking of items that I need to get for my classroom. While we were instructed about the hazards of overloading and outlets, I noted that I need like four power strips. While being told to be cautious about securing cleaning solutions out of student reach, I jotted down a desperate need for an endless supply of Clorox wipes.

It made me think about all the many things I may not realize that I need. Whether these are things for a brand new classroom that I’ll need to stock to levels of functioning, or if they’re just secret tools of the trade which are known only to seasoned veterans, I need to know about them! So let’s think about what all I know I need and then I can “poll the audience” to see what I’m missing!

The Bare Necessities

Let’s talk logistics. My classroom is a rectangle of four walls (obvs), but they’re made of plaster (god only knows why), which poses a problem in terms of being allowed to hang things. The “front” wall has the smart board and two white boards plus some empty wall space on either end, the “back” wall is all windows, and the two small walls are empty space. I’m restricted to painter’s tape should I want to hang anything, so I need that. Each of the four walls has one outlet station (with two or four outlets each, I forget). That’s right. ONE outlet spot per wall. So obviously, power strips are a necessity in the highest. Also, I’ll have 5 classes with at least 32 students in each, so I’ll see over 150 kids every day. This means clorox wipes, kleenex, hand sanitizer, and all other germ deterrents are mucho necessito. I’m fortunate in that my school will provide most basic classroom supplies (pencils, paper, index cards, post-its, etc.), but one thing I consider to be a basic necessity, which isn’t usually provided by the school, is a set of anchor charts with sticky adhesive on each page. They’re like giant post-its and are as versatile as their smaller counterparts. NEED!!

Personal Necessities

I am cold-natured. I get cold easily and often. The blessed thing about schools is that they keep the temperature low in order to deter the spreading of diseases, a courtesy for which I am most grateful. However, that means that I am FREAKING COLD for at least 40 hours a week, a fact which I cannot abide. Long story short: I need a space heater for my little tootsies. Similarly, I like a warm drink in the morning as my good-for-you-for-getting-up-so-early reward. Thus, I need a(nother) candle warmer (I already have one but it must stay home for my weekend tea). Has anyone else realized that those things keep your drink at the perfect temperature?!?! Lastly, I simply must have plants in my classroom. Back in the dark ages when I worked as an accountant, my cubicle resembled Fern Gully in the best possible way and I intend to continue that trend in my classroom. Must have Pothos!!

Personal “Luxuries”

I am going to try to avoid fluorescent lights. Thus, I need some good cheap lamps. I found a couple at Goodwill yesterday and they were bulbous and baby pink with dusty, gross shades, but they were $5 each so I got them and bought some new shades and spray paint. They’re in the midst of a renovation. I’m also looking for cheap, comfy chairs so that I can include some alternative seating options in the classroom. Now, this is year one so I’m not going balls-to-the-walls by making everything about my classroom an “alternative option,” but I would like to go ahead and start a collection so I can incorporate it slowly over time. I’m also way into book talks, so I got some small book easels on Amazon so I can feature new or relevant books each week.

I spent the past few days obsessing over my classroom library. I realized that the time off that I have now will be a thing of the past in a few short weeks, so I need to get done as many things as possible so that my transition into the classroom is fluid. Thus, I took down all my books (totaling over 150 at this point, and always growing), entered each ISBN into my Classroom Booksource account, stamped each with the embosser Hannah gave me, wrote my name on the top of each book, listed each (categorized by genre) on a master Google Doc., made colored genre labels, and put the corresponding colored sticker on each book. If it isn’t clear, this took days to complete and it messed up my living room, but with the hubby away, the wifey will organize/label/categorize/inventory. That’s the old saying, right?

library

So, here is my question to you: what am I missing? What did I forget or overlook? Maybe you’re a teacher and you see a glaring error in my preparation. Or perhaps you aren’t a teacher, but you remember something a teacher has done that stuck out in your memory. Did you play games that made your learning fun? Was there one poster that captured your attention? Or maybe on the other end of things, was there something that was highly distracting or discouraging for you, the student? Any insights won’t just help me, they’ll help my students! Thanks and looking forward to what everyone has to say!

 

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Re-reading Things Because I Must: “The Odyssey”

I had the opportunity to teach [excerpts of] The Odyssey to two separate classes this past school year, so I had plenty of opportunities to experiment with secondary sources and supplemental texts. One text I want to go right ahead and endorse is Gareth Hinds’s graphic novel of the epic poem. It can be difficult to teach from a text when you don’t have one-to-one copies for all students, so I could only scan the chapters we read and project them as we read along with the poem. It wasn’t ideal, but it often helps striving readers to have visuals (besides the 90’s movie we watched), and it’s just a more modern medium. I adore this adaptation!

As with the previous units, I focused on an overall idea or theme, this time being “heroes;” the texts and discussions included in the unit led students to question the traits and actions that typically lead to the title of “hero,” as well as challenge whether someone can still be a hero if s/he occasionally acts in ways that go against those traits/actions. Odysseus is a perfect character upon which to focus these questions, since he is generally considered one of literature’s great heroes, but also does a great many things that challenge that title.

My main goal in this unit was to present the students with materials and questions that would force them to practice looking at events and actions through various perspectives and determine whether that perspective change affects heroic status. As with all my units, I want this to make sense on a literary level (obviously), but I also want it to make sense in the everyday lives of my students. I want them to practice seeing things from various perspectives. I want them to understand how those perspectives lead people to have different opinions of who is heroic and who is not. We live in difficult times. The more we equip the future generations to be compassionate, understanding individuals, the better our chances of creating a society in which we all treat each others with kindness and respect, and one way to gain respect for others is by making the effort to see his/her perspective.

savI challenged the students to begin by attempting to assume how the perspectives might have varied between the Greeks and the Trojans during the Trojan Horse episode, as a bit of background. To Greeks, it was a witty and brave action to infiltrate the walls and capture the city, thereby winning the war. To Trojans, though, the same actions look more like being tricked and massacred by an invading army. Similarly, students challenged Odysseus’ actions on the isle of the Cyclopes and his interactions with Polyphemus. Using a chart, students recorded the moments in which Odysseus acted civilized vs. when he acted savage, as well as when Polyphemus acted civilized vs. when he acted savage. The result was that both parties were clearly to blame for the death of Odysseus’ men and the delay in his return to Ithaca.

circeWe continued the challenge on perspective by pairing modern works with the ancient poem. Margaret Atwood is a pioneer of feminist perspective and often writes accounts of historical stories from the point of view of a minor character. After completing Book 10 and discussing Odysseus’ account of his time spent with Circe, we read and excerpt of Atwood’s “Circe/Mud Poems,” in which we get an interpretation of Circe’s negative opinion on Odysseus’ year-long visit. Students spent time reflecting on how this perspective conflicted with Odysseus’ account and in what ways the change in perspective affected Odysseus’ status as a hero in this particular Book.

pennyOur final perspective challenge was that of Odysseus’ wife, Penelope. Since women’s points of view were rarely included in ancient texts, Atwood takes the liberty to give voice to the voiceless, daring to reveal that Penelope might not be as chill about Odysseus’ 20-year absence and multiple affairs as Odysseus would have us believe. Since The Penelopiad is a full-sized novel, I gave students a handout containing the intro (from a dead and pissed Penelope) and first chorus (from the maids Odysseus slaughtered for “befriending” the suitors), and were again given time to reflect on how these perspectives challenge Odysseus’ account and his status as a hero.

Unsurprisingly, these brilliant students picked right up on the fact that the point of view was pivotal to heroic status. Most students finished the unit with powerful and passionate opinions on Odysseus’ heroic status, opinions which they argued and defended in final persuasive essays. We ended the unit by re-addressing the status of “hero,” as well as by briefly analyzing two antiheroes (Sir Ballaster Blackheart from the graphic novel Nimona and Dr. Horrible from “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog”) who often act more heroically than the heroes they fight. Going forward, if I get the chance to teach The Odyssey again, I’d love to spend more time with each of these, really digging into why the heroes in these accounts fail to to actually be as heroic as the “villains,” as well as what that means and how it applies to real life.

I truly hope that I get to teach The Odyssey again. As old as it is, I have no doubt that this unit was the most interesting and the most relevant for my students. I’d love to hear what others have done to teach it, or just what anyone thinks might help make it more meaningful and fun for 9th graders!

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Review of Beah’s “A Long Way Gone” and Gantos’s “Hole in My Life”

Does a book need to be sad in order to be moving? Must the reader suffer alongside the writers/characters in order to learn from them? I’ve been asking myself these questions since finishing two of the texts that have been taught in my school’s 9th grade ELA classes in past years. Both texts were nonfiction (we have our fiction texts locked down) and apparently have been popular in previous years so, despite the depressing blurbs, I was optimistic about reading both.

I’m now sitting with both texts, A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah and Hole in My Life by Jack Gantos, under my belt, but I’m having trouble picturing myself reading either text with a class of students. I’m well aware that they both have value; let me make that perfectly clear. However, nowadays, I’m reading things with a mind to how I would teach that text and what meanings students might be able to extract, and I’m not confident I got anything out of them other than all-consuming sadness. That takes me back to my original questions: does a book need to be sad in order to be moving and must the reader suffer alongside the writers/characters in order to learn from them? Additionally, considering the lesson we expect young readers to extract from this exceedingly sad text, is it possible to learn the same lesson from a more positive and uplifting text?

Spare me the lectures, please. I fully understand that just because something is sad doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t read it. We all know that my patronage of WWII and Holocaust books and documentaries likely has me on a CIA watch list. I continue to seek out these stories in spite of the fact that I know they will have a sad ending because they are still saturated with meaning and lessons on tolerance, injustice, kindness, forgiveness, and so on and so forth. Similarly, I can see that both of these nonfiction texts address juvenile justice in controversial and meaningful ways, ways that might appeal to the readers that will be in my classroom. In these texts, they may find solace, familiarity, wisdom of experience, and guidance, all of which would make these texts more than valid reads for these students. So I’m on board! No, I didn’t enjoy either of them very much, but maybe that’s because I’m not the target audience. No, I couldn’t relate, but that is an incomprehensible blessing that only reflects my privileged life. Now that I’ve ruminated, my original, rhetorical questions seem to have morphed into the more concrete question of why can’t we just read something happy?!? If we read both of these books plus To Kill A Mockingbird and Romeo and Juliet, these kids might just wonder whether happy books actually exist! Color me selfish, but I want to read something happy!!

Anyway, let’s talk about the texts:

This is how wars are fought now: by children, hopped-up on drugs and wielding AK-47s. Children have become soldiers of choice. In the more than fifty conflicts going on worldwide, it is estimated that there are some 300,000 child soldiers. Ishmael Beah used to be one of them.

What is war like through the eyes of a child soldier? How does one become a killer? How does one stop? Child soldiers have been profiled by journalists, and novelists have struggled to imagine their lives. But until now, there has not been a first-person account from someone who came through this hell and survived.

In A Long Way Gone, Beah, now twenty-five years old, tells a riveting story: how at the age of twelve, he fled attacking rebels and wandered a land rendered unrecognizable by violence. By thirteen, he’d been picked up by the government army, and Beah, at heart a gentle boy, found that he was capable of truly terrible acts.

 

In the summer of 1971, Jack Gantos was an aspiring writer looking for adventure, cash for college tuition, and a way out of a dead-end job. For ten thousand dollars, he recklessly agreed to help sail a sixty-foot yacht loaded with a ton of hashish from the Virgin Islands to New York City, where he and his partners sold the drug until federal agents caught up with them. For his part in the conspiracy, Gantos was sentenced to serve up to six years in prison.
In Hole in My Life, this prizewinning author of over thirty books for young people confronts the period of struggle and confinement that marked the end of his own youth. On the surface, the narrative tumbles from one crazed moment to the next as Gantos pieces together the story of his restless final year of high school, his short-lived career as a criminal, and his time in prison. But running just beneath the action is the story of how Gantos – once he was locked up in a small, yellow-walled cell – moved from wanting to be a writer to writing, and how dedicating himself more fully to the thing he most wanted to do helped him endure and ultimately overcome the worst experience of his life.

This one was difficult for the most obvious reason: the subject of child soldiers and war is horrific. It was extremely thoughtful and well-written, clearly being the result of a short life full of experience.

A Long Way Gone was the better of the two. It was painfully sad and also distant in a way that meant that I, as a white American woman, couldn’t really understand or even imagine the writer’s experiences. Nonetheless, it was extremely thoughtful and well-written, showing that it was the result of a short lifetime of horrid and impactful experiences.

Hole in My Life was unpleasant, not because of the subject matter, but because of the writing. I couldn’t stand the narrator, and I’m not talking about the 19-year-old Gantos. I mean the post-prison, writing-about-my-experiences Gantos, who narrated his choices and actions in ways that seemed to romanticize a lifetime of arrogant and ignorant actions and choices. I was reminded of Christopher McCandless from Krakauer’s Into the Wild, whose ignorance of his privilege and reckless desire for adventure directly led to his death. Gantos kindly admits that it was his own stupidity that landed him in prison, but his honesty didn’t negate his unlikability, for me at least. I have no desire to teach this one, but we’ll see.

Thoughts? Suggestions? Am I the only one feeling overwhelmed by sad books lately?

 

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